All Saints’ Sunday – November 5, 2023
Today we are celebrating All Saints’ Sunday. All Saints Day is actually part of what we call a Triduum. Triduum meaning a three-day observance. We have All Hallows Eve (otherwise known as Halloween), All Saints Day, followed by All Souls Day. This year that was Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – October 31, November 1 and November 2. It is Hallowtide, but we usually condense it to a Sunday observance.
But the distinctiveness of each day matters. All Saints Day is an opportunity to pray for and commemorate the martyrs and saints of the faith. All Souls is when we pray for those who have died in our families or churches. It’s part of an incredible tapestry of faithful practice in which we confront death with the victory of the cross. Honoring and remembering our dead is one of the central ways we grieve and process loss. We shouldn’t downplay the opportunity that Hallowtide provides.
Michael Fitzpatrick, who contributes to the website Journey with Jesus, shares:
As I’ve been praying for Palestinian and Israeli families suffering in this war, I’ve been reflecting on one of my most significant memorial experiences. I served during Operation Iraqi Freedom as an Army Chaplain’s assistant, and part of my responsibilities were planning and executing in-theater memorial services. Every soldier that dies receives a stateside memorial service, but we also perform a separate memorial in-theater (which means in the area of operations) to help ourselves process the loss and say goodbye. I often had to withhold my own grief as I planned the unit memorial service.
One of the most affecting moments in the service comes when the First Sergeant for the soldier’s company stands up and proceeds to take a roll call. They’ll call out the name of a soldier in the unit, who will stand up at their seat and yell, “Here First Sergeant!” Another name is called out, and again the response, “Here First Sergeant!” This continues for a few more calls and responses, before the First Sergeant calls out the name of the deceased soldier.
Their name is called out again, and still there is silence.
Their name is called out for a third time, after which their First Sergeant sits down while the silence lingers.
It’s a haunting experience, but it punctuates the loss in such a tangible way. Never again will that soldier respond to the roll call that starts each day.
All Souls is a holy day for us to come together as a parish and give a roll call of all our dead from the past year. Even if they all received funeral services and burials, there is something marvelous about returning to their names, their faces, their memories, and seeing where our heart is healing or still struggling with commending them to God.
One question people sometimes have is why Hallowtide features both All Saints and All Souls. Aren’t the saints included in the remembered dead? Why do they need to have their own separate day? I suspect we each answer these questions in our own way, but here’s something that may resonate. All Saints is a time when we as a church can set our hearts and minds on the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in the faith, who have modeled for us that the Christian life really is possible.
Sometimes the Christian life seems too utopian, too difficult a task. All Saints can be a time to remember that the saints were people just like us, ordinary people through whom God’s extraordinary grace worked miracles. That comfort renews my faith that perhaps God’s grace is sufficient for me too.
A question to ponder: Are there saints living today? What kind of characteristics do saints have, that we might know them when they pass us in the street? The words of Jesus in our Gospel reading for All Saints suggests a guide to recognizing God’s saints in our midst.
Saints will be found among the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Saints will be found among those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Saints will be found among the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Saints will be found among those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Saints will be found among the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Saints will be found among the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Saints will be found among the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Saints will be found among those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We are not left alone; you are not left alone. The saints are a great cloud of heroic witnesses. They are bright celestial lights, “like stars appearing,” to enlighten the eyes of our heart and enlighten the path ahead especially during the dark nights for our soul. This “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds us and understands what the scriptures call our “running the race of life”. Today we remember all the saints because they remember us.
Before there was death, there was life. Before there was doubt, there was faith. Before there was war, there was peace. Before there was sin, there was grace.
Death doesn’t get the last word; love does. Before there was death, there was love. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses both here and in the heavens.
“When The Saints Go Marching In”
We are all trav’ling in the footsteps
Of those that’ve gone before
We’ll all be reunited
On that new and sunlit shore
When the saints go marching in
O, When the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Praise the Lord! Amen.